24/192 Music Downloads are Very Silly Indeed

Recently musician Neil Young launched the Pono music player and associated music store to sell very high bit rate music in lossless FLAC format. The pitch (sorry) is that it’s “as they first sound during studio recording sessions” and by extension will sound better than most music at lower bit rates encoded with MP3 or AAC. The Pono player sells for $399 and most albums are $17.99. But is it as good as Young claims?

The answer lies in the valley between sampling theory and the reality of human hearing and it’s “no”. Multiple double blind tests have shown that the overwhelming majority of humans just can’t tell the difference between 16-bit/44.1kHz files (the CD standard) and 24-bit/192kHz files (the Pono standard).

But, and this is a big “but”, that doesn’t mean music in the 16-bit/44.1kHz format can’t sound better. Improvement is possible but part of it’s in the hands of those who actually master music and the rest is in yours. Even if all Pono ends up doing is coercing the record companies to do a better job it will still be considered a success even if it otherwise fails.

Craft Beer Uses 4 Times As Much Barley As Corporate Brew

In news shocking to no one that’s ever consumed a beer, Craft Beer Uses 4 Times As Much Barley As Corporate Brew.

Prohibition changed a lot of things in the US, especially the way beer was brewed, marketed and distributed. You no longer had to travel to the St. Louis to get a Budweiser, you could get one where you lived and it tasted essentially the same regardless of where you were. Regional breweries, if they managed to reopen, were either bought up or put out of business. And beer became less flavorful and distinctive in order to sell to as many people as possible. It took almost 50 before the craft beer movement to appear and its taken another 30 or so since then for it to become a disruptive force. It’s a great time to be a beer drinker.

What do you do when a stranger e-mails saying he plans to kill himself?

Dennis Williams, an American teacher and writer, decided to end his own life and emailed a number of strangers to tell them so. Each one of them had a different reaction.

I blogged this because the part about putting your creations out in front of the world and having almost no one notice resonates with me. I’m not as heavily invested as Williams so I can handle the lack of attention but he certainly was.

White-tailed deer on Staten Island

If you’re not familiar, Staten Island is one of the NYC boroughs. It’s physically larger than Manhattan but the population is just a fraction, resulting in a lot of open space. And into that space white-tailed deer have been multiplying. It’s a real problem, given the damage that deer can incur:

As a result, the United States now has over 30 million white-tailed deer, much more densely populated than they ever were before Europeans arrived. Unchecked by wolves, cougars, and bears, the herds wreak havoc: a 2012 Rutgers University study alleges that white-tailed deer are responsible for most of the $4.5 billion worth of crops that US agriculture loses to wildlife annually; they account for three to four thousand car collisions a day. New Jersey alone had 31,192 deer collisions from 2011 to 2012. Unchecked by predators or hunters, only starvation will limit population growth.

The irony is that at one time, white-tailed deer were almost completely wiped out by settlers. When the first Europeans arrived the population was estimated at over 24 million. By the end of the 19th century, that number was down to 350,000. Buy thanks to conservation efforts, that number has grown to the 30 million mentioned above. Unfortunately, those deer are crowded into a small fraction of their original range due to the expanding human population. The accidents and crop damage are the inevitable result.

Abandoned railroads in black and white

Rochester, NY is crisscrossed with railroad tracks but much of it is currently abandoned in place. These tracks are near Lee Road on the West side of the city and include the right of way for the trolley that used to run to Buffalo and Lockport. Combined with the trolley that ran to Syracuse it was possible to travel by rail from Buffalo to Syracuse without having to ride the NY Central as long as you were willing to deal with the interchanges. Personally, I would love to see the interurbans return to Western NY but I doubt there’s sufficient interest to warrant the building (or rebuilding) of the infrastructure necessary to pull this off.

I took these with my Kiev 6C medium format SLR using Fomapan film.

Stop Here
Stop Here

Why Did Japanese People Stop Performing Seppuku?

Seppuku, or as most in the West call it hara-kiri, is ritual suicide by cutting open the abdomen. It originated with the samurai class and was considered an honorable way to die. Over time it would even become a standard judicial punishment for samurai, if they hadn’t done so already before their arrest.

It was intended that you would perform this act along with a second, or kaishaku, who was expected to cut off your head with a single stroke of their sword immediately after your cut. This would shorten the time of suffering and was not considered murder. The kaishaku was carefully chosen from your samurai companions to be a skilled swordsman. But not all who committed seppuku had a kaishaku and you can imagine how awful their deaths were as a result.

But over time seppuku fell out of favor in Japan (although suicide for honor reasons did not) and when it happens now, it’s considered an anomaly and out of place in a modern society. How did that change happen? It’s of course complicated but highly related to the Meiji restoration and the opening of Japan to the West in the 19th century.

Interestingly, the Japanese art of drawing the sword, iaido, has a kata where the practitioner acts as the kaishaku for a samurai committing seppuku. There were some astonished looks in the class when our sensei explained the basis of that kata.

Should the Marathon bomber’s trial be held in Boston?

It’s not a question of guilt or innocence. There is ample evidence including (possibly) a confession. The real task of the jury in the Marathon bomber’s trial is determining whether or not he will be executed. Will they let their collective anger drive them or will they look at the evidence and the circumstances and decide? Is this something we can trust anyone from Boston to do?

I’ll be honest and say I don’t know and won’t even hazard a guess. We’ll just have to wait and see.